The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal law that requires hospitals and other healthcare facilities with emergency departments to provide a medical screening examination to anyone who comes to the facility seeking treatment for a medical condition, regardless of their ability to pay. EMTALA applies to all patients, regardless of their insurance or immigration status.
The goal here is to give a summary of the EMTALA act and an example of a violation:
The Purpose of EMTALA
EMTALA requires hospitals and other healthcare facilities with emergency departments to provide a medical screening examination to anyone who comes to the facility seeking treatment for a medical condition, regardless of their ability to pay. This is specific to Emergency Rooms/Departments. Urgent Care does not apply in most circumstances.
If the facility determines that the patient has an emergency medical condition the facility must provide treatment until the patient’s condition is stable or transfer the patient to another facility if the patient’s condition requires specialized treatment that the facility cannot provide. If they fail to provide care, or provide supportive care to allow for a safe transfer to an appropriate hospital, this is an example of an EMTALA violation.
Suppose the facility determines that the patient does not have an emergency medical condition. In that case, the facility must provide the patient with a written notice explaining the decision and the patient’s options for further treatment. There will still be an evaluation done on this patient, and if the physician at the ER has determined that there is no medical condition, that is where the written notice will be given and explained.
When understanding EMTALA is useful
EMTALA prohibits hospitals and other healthcare facilities from refusing to provide treatment to patients based on their ability to pay or transferring patients to other facilities without ensuring that the patient’s condition is stable and that the transfer is appropriate.
Example of a violation: A hospital refuses to provide treatment to a patient with no insurance and cannot pay, even though the patient has a life-threatening medical condition. This would violate EMTALA, as the hospital must provide treatment to all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.
An example that you may encounter involving an ambulance would be the following:
A patient calls an ambulance because they are experiencing chest pain and difficulty breathing. The ambulance arrives and assesses the patient’s condition, determining that the patient has an emergency medical condition that requires immediate hospital treatment.
However, the ambulance crew is still looking for a hospital that will accept the patient due to the patient’s lack of insurance. The hospital turning the patient away because of the lack of insurance is what makes this an EMTALA violation. If a facility refuses a patient because they do not have the resources (such as a CT machine or running water) then this is NOT an EMTALA violation.
These concepts are laws are very confusing for the layperson, and it is more important to understand the ideas behind the laws such as the intent of the law. While you may go your entire career without coming across a hospital or situation that may constitute an EMTALA violation, it is still something that could happen and you need to be aware. The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.
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